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Looking a gift card in the fine print… Tarlow Breed Hart & Rodgers outlines the gist of “gift card legislation.”

Thursday, May 08, 2008

To many, the gift card represents the perfect gift with very little chance of being “re-gifted.” It’s also a win for merchants who receive money up front for purchases not yet made. The law firm of Tarlow, Breed, Hart & Rodgers (TBHR) warns that even in an apparent win-win situation, there are some things merchants and consumers should know about gift card legislation to truly make it a win for everybody.

“Gift card laws vary from state to state,” said Michael Radin, of TBHR’s Franchise and Distribution Group. “So what’s true in Massachusetts might not be in Alabama. Merchants should really know the law in their state before embarking on a gift card program.”

Some examples of how gift card and gift certificate laws can vary include the following:

  • In Massachusetts, gift certificates and merchant credit slips must be redeemed within seven years of the issue date. The issue date and expiration date must also be clearly indicated on the face of the certificate. For electronic gift cards, it must be clearly marked on the sales receipt and/or made available via Web site or by toll-free phone number. If the expiration date is not noted, the certificate will be redeemable forever. Once a gift certificate has been redeemed for at least 90 percent of its value, you may elect to receive the remaining value in cash.
  • In New Hampshire, gift certificates with a face value of $100 or less cannot contain expiration dates. Those with a face value in excess of $100 expire will revert back to the state as abandoned property. Any dormancy, latency, administrative or other fees or service charges reducing the total redeemable amount of the gift certificate are not allowed. (Does not apply to season passes.)
  • In Rhode Island, monthly or annual service or maintenance fees on gift certificates, time limitations for redeeming a gift certificate, expiration dates and any language suggesting an expiration date may apply to the gift certificate are not allowed. Unused portions of redeemed gift certificates must be given back to the consumer by reissuing a gift certificate for the unused amount or by giving such amount to the consumer in cash if less than $1.00 is owed. (Does not apply to gift certificates that are distributed to a consumer pursuant to an awards, loyalty or promotional program where no money or value is given in exchange by the consumer, but any limitations must be disclosed in writing at the time of issue. Does not apply to prepaid wireless telephone service or cards.)

“Besides laws varying from state to state on gift card legislation, businesses should be aware of their company’s own policies towards gift card and gift certificate programs. Some franchisors have actually been sued by its franchisees because they allegedly failed to disclose that participation in the franchise’s gift card program was mandatory,” said Radin. “While it might seem like no big deal, it’s always a good idea for a merchant, to consult their attorney prior to embarking on a gift card program. Gift certificates and gift cards should be a win-win for all parties if done correctly and a fairly quick consult with your attorney is a simple enough preventative measure to keep it that way.”


About Tarlow, Breed, Hart & Rodgers, P.C.

Formed in 1991, Tarlow, Breed, Hart & Rodgers, P.C. is committed to providing high quality, comprehensive legal services to its clients. Featuring a breadth and depth of experience and perspective usually found only at larger law firms, Tarlow, Breed, Hart & Rodgers. P.C. offers sophisticated legal counsel to entrepreneurs, businesses, individuals, families, and institutions.

Tarlow, Breed, Hart & Rodgers’ areas of expertise include corporate law, employment matters, mergers and acquisitions, litigation and dispute resolution, estate planning, taxation, real estate, bankruptcy, and municipal law.

To help clients make informed decisions and achieve their goals, Tarlow, Breed, Hart & Rodgers P.C. develops creative customized solutions for its clients by emphasizing careful listening and considerate evaluation. Utilizing the expertise and collegiality of the firm’s fifty plus members, associates, and support staff has consistently resulted in the building of lasting relationships of trust and confidence.

The offices of Tarlow, Breed, Hart & Rodgers, P.C. are located at 101 Huntington Avenue, Prudential Center, in Boston, MA 02199. For additional information, or to arrange for a consultation, please call 1-617-218-2000, e-mail, or visit